Budget Watch

TransCo president cries ‘politics’ as Pacquiao grills Cusi at DOE budget hearing

Aika Rey
TransCo president cries ‘politics’ as Pacquiao grills Cusi at DOE budget hearing

PDP-LABAN FACE OFF? National Transmission Corporation President Melvin Matibag calls the DOE budget hearing at the Senate 'political.'

Senate of the Philippines' stream

(1st UPDATE) 'You are out of order,' says Senator Sherwin Gatchalian before eventually kicking out National Transmission Corporation president Melvin Matibag from the virtual budget hearing

A Senate panel kicked out National Transmission Corporation (TransCo) President Melvin Matibag from the virtual Department of Energy (DOE) budget hearing on Thursday, October 21, after he accused Senator Manny Pacquiao of politicking while grilling Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.

Matibag, PDP-Laban secretary general, is allied with the Cusi faction of the ruling party.

Throughout the budget hearing on Thursday, Pacquiao questioned Cusi on how the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (IEMOP), with a measly capital of P7,000, bagged the contract to manage the spot market.

Senators, including Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, also questioned why the DOE allowed IEMOP to operate alongside the Philippine Electricity Market Corporation even if the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) only required one spot market operator.

Cusi maintained that the selection of IEMOP is in compliance with EPIRA, that it is supposed to be independent of industry players. He also said that PEMC and IEMOP are still in the transition period.

Unsatisfied with Cusi’s answers, Pacquiao asked: “Anong meron ang IEMOP bakit kinuha ito? Eh hindi ito pumapasa sa qualification ng EPIRA. At ang IEMOP, isa sa board ng IEMOP, ‘yung asawa ni Attorney Matibag na sa iyo nagtatrabaho.”

(What are IEMOP’s qualifications and why was it awarded the contract? It doesn’t even qualify under EPIRA. And the IEMOP, one of its board members is the wife of Attorney Matibag who works for you.)

Cusi and Pacquiao lead the warring factions of PDP-Laban.

Matibag interjected: “If Senator Pacquiao only read the EPIRA, buo ang kuwento nito. TransCo ang operator muna at tinransfer ‘yan sa PEMC. Wala na ang TransCo diyan. Let’s call a spade a spade dito sa hearing na ‘to. This is all political, Senator Pacquiao.”

(If Senator Pacquiao only read the EPIRA, the narrative is complete. TransCo was the first operator then it was transferred to PEMC. TransCo is already out of the question here. Let’s call a spade a spade in this hearing. This is all political, Senator Pacquiao.)

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who presided the budget hearing, tried to cut off Matibag, but the TransCo chief continued in a raised voice: “Senator Pacquiao, I challenge you…. ‘Wag tayong magmalinis dito (Let’s not be hypocrites here).”

As Gatchalian tried to maintain order during the budget hearing, he called out Matibag for insinuating that Pacquiao’s policy questions were politically driven.

“This is my committee and you have no right of calling this hearing a political hearing. The senators are entitled to ask policy questions. You have no right of calling this a political hearing. You are out of order,” Gatchalian said.

“We’ve given you a chance to answer the policy questions but instead you insulted this committee by calling this a political hearing? Hindi naman fair ‘yun. (That is not fair),” the senator added.

Matibag was later kicked out of the virtual hearing.

In response to Matibag’s accusations, Pacquiao said that the TransCo chief was out of line: “Bastos itong si Attorney Matibag. Sayang ang pagka-lawyer niya…. Sorry, pero ‘yan ang totoo. Magpakakita naman ng paggalang [sa komite].”

(Attorney Matibag is rude. What a waste of being a lawyer. I’m sorry, but that is the truth. He should have shown respect to the committee.)

Cusi apologized. “I have to apologize for the interaction if you are offended by Attorney Matibag. I have to make an apology considering that he comes from the DOE family.”

To cap off the issue, PEMC and IEMOP are still undergoing transition according to Cusi, and that he hopes that it would be completed during the Duterte administration.

In a letter to Gatchalian dated Friday, October 22, Matibag said he “did not intend to disrespect” the Senate committee or the Senate.

Matibag accused Pacquiao of “recycling” old issues that he claimed were used in an alleged “demolition job” that involved a House hearing and news reports. 

“My actions were righteous indignation on my part, as I strongly felt that there was abuse of legislative privilege by Senator Pacquiao,” said Matibag, who signed the letter as president and CEO of TransCo. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.